Experiment #7: What is in a PhD?

Summary answer: a lot of love and a little bit of work.

Many of you know that I defended my thesis on Low Energy ions in Earth's Plasmasphere this past Friday. I was incredibly fortunate to be surrounded by family and friends from all over the world who came to celebrate with me and learn what a pitch angle was (slinkies, right guys?) and joined by dozens more over blue jeans video. There is something totally beautiful about having so many people cheering for you as you cross a major finish line in your life.

My thesis ultimately comprised of six papers, 1 more 'could have been paper', and the outline for another thesis/post doc project. I worked with a grand total of 18 different co-authors from institutions all over the world. I finished in 3 years after spending 1 summer and 1 South Africa Research Trip not working on my thesis project. I passed quals after my second year, although I was told that my math skills were weak and would hinder my success as a scientist. I cried publicly or felt totally alone in the world at least once a week during the first 2.5 years of my dissertation. I applied for jobs as a park ranger or really anything else starting my 2nd year of graduate school. I dated 3 different men in graduate school before meeting my show stopper in the last 3 months. I failed an innumerable amount in graduate school, once finding myself sobbing over a cup of ramen because I even messed that up. I was objectively depressed for at least 12 months of my dissertation work. I ultimately had 5 amazing job offers and picked what is a job designed for me after a difficult decision and will be moving to Seattle.

People have told me that the above is an example of a lack of mental health/boundaries in graduate school and that it's not like that for everyone. I disagree - it's like this for everyone, some just hide it better than others. The first half of the above paragraph is what the world sees when they look at me or my resume, the second half is what my friends/family/loved ones saw in the day-to-day, and the last is the conclusion; everything is interwoven and I couldn't have had a line in that paragraph without the others. Underlying it all beneath the words was an enormous amount of love. Never underestimate the value of a support network - I would be nothing without mine. Graduate school is objectively hard and involves a lot of failure in order to become an expert, and I needed other people in order to keep pushing through.

Am I a successful graduate student? I don't actually know - I am not sure if you had told me what the journey would be in the beginning that I would do it again. There are a lot of paths to take in life; I certainly grew in graduate school, but it definitely took it's toll on personal relationships, my well-being, and my general attitude towards life.

So I cried at my defense, unabashedly and in front of an audience of 50+ people because I was so totally grateful for my family and friends. They were happy tears. I wouldn't have made it without you all, without the 2 AM "you can do it"'s and the "I love you"'s. To me, that's what my PhD is - a testament of the potential of humanity when we work together.

On my blog, I am attaching three links which were presented at my my thesis defense. The first is my acknowledgements (all 18 pages!) of which many of you are in and will be available on my google drive as a PDF:

The second is my actual recorded thesis defense:

The third is my thank you video I showed at my defense, which will be on youtube here (may be subject to change...):

Once again, thank you everyone!! I'm done!!!

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